Repeat Something Enough And Everyone Will Believe It

H/T Jonathan Bagley for the following video of Professor David Spiegelhalter, the next President of the Royal Statistical Society, and a couple of blog posts by him.

It’s a nice little video, making a simple point, and without using any mathematics, all in less than 5 minutes.

And it seems that this bacon-causes-cancer business is a recycled idea, given that Spiegelhalter wrote the following in 2007 (he wrote some more later):

On 31st October 2007 the World Cancer Research Fund (WCRF, a charity/umbrella organisation “supporting research into the role of diet and nutrition in the prevention of cancer”) issued a press release to advertise their comprehensive report on the influences of nutrition and physical activity on cancer, “Food, Nutrition, Physical Activity and the Prevention of Cancer: a Global Perspective”.

As well as the actual report and the press release, the WCRF also released 10 “recommendations for cancer prevention”. The report itself was produced by an international panel of experts and consisted of extensive literature reviews of studies on cancer.

One of the findings of the report was that red and processed meat increased the chances of bowel cancer, where one of the specific recommendations made on the press release was that “People should not eat any more than 500g of red meat a week” (original emphasis). In this finding, the report supports conclusions that were arrived at in the previous report from the same organisation, although this time the authors write that the evidence has become even more conclusive. Most news organisations have picked up the story on the 31st or 1st, after several days of prereporting on what “a major new report to be published by the WCRF” is about to conclude.

The precise way the story was reported varied slightly between “Cancer linked directly to obesity” (Channel 4), and“obesity worse for cancer than smoking” (Daily Mail , although this misleading headline was subsequently changed to “Is anything safe to eat? Cancer report adds bacon, ham and drink to danger list”).

The Sun reported the story by singling out “bacon sandwiches” (“Bacon butty cancer risk” ), and the bacon sandwich, probably because it is a stereotypically English comfort food has subsequently become the point of discussion of the report on several other news and comments pieces, for example on the Guardian’s “Comment is Free” site. A lot of the media coverage of the report has focused on the meat section, to the exclusion of the report’s messages on other foods and physical exercise and their positive as well as their negative contributions to cancer.

Reactions to the story in the subsequent commentary (i.e. op-eds and blog comments on newspaper websites) focused almost exclusively on complaints that scientists won’t let us eat anything now, that they’ll discover that everything causes cancer and we may just as well starve to death, or that surely there will soon be a story about how read meat is good for you…

I think the healthists’ method is simply to keep repeating their message – in this case, the bacon-causes-cancer doctrine – until it ceases to meet any resistance. I don’t know whether it got its first outing in 2007, but despite all resistance at that time, here it is again in 2015. And it’ll be back again in another few years. And gradually everyone will believe that bacon sandwiches cause cancer.

The same happened with the smoking-causes-lung-cancer doctrine, first wheeled out in 1950 to intense resistance from the likes of Sir Ronald Fisher, perhaps the foremost statistician of his day. Fisher died in 1964, and so was unavailable to respond to the next iteration of the smoking-causes-lung-cancer dogma. Nor was he available for subsequent iterations. One by one all the critics (and there seem to have been quite a few of them) simply died out. And as resistance weakened, so the general public gradually fell under the spell of the dogma.

In fact, it has often seemed to me that the Doll and Hill British Doctors Study was designed to do exactly this job of message repetition, because it was a prospective study which waited for 50 years for the doctors to gradually die off. But instead of waiting until they were all dead, they published updated figures every 5 or 10 years, which ensured that smoking and cancer would stay in the news, as the media dutifully published their latest numbers. This is a bit like me doing a very slow orbital simulation model run, and reporting the latest position of an asteroid in the solar system on my blog once a week (e.g. “passing quite near Mars today”). It would be of no value to anyone, but it would keep people reminded of my interest in deadly fireballs raining down from the sky, which is what the asteroid will finally do.

It’s actually a propaganda technique. If something is repeated enough times, people will eventually believe it, regardless of whether it’s true or not. And this has been the result with the smoking-causes-lung-cancer dogma:  it’s probably the one thing most people know with any certainty.

All this reminds me of another story I seem to remember reading recently – some time in the past month or two – that scans for breast cancer were actually pretty useless, and threw up false positives as often as true ones. Am I right about this? Anyway, it reminded me that I’d seen the story two years earlier, and written about it on my blog on two occasions.

1% of women at age forty who participate in routine screening have breast cancer. 80% of women with breast cancer will get positive mammographies. 7.273% of women without breast cancer will also get positive mammographies. A woman in this age group had a positive mammography in a routine screening. What is the probability that she actually has breast cancer?

And in fact, it was a problem that I’d first encountered several years before that as a question in a statistical essay. I had assumed back then that it was just an imaginary example dreamt up by some statistician to illustrate Bayes’ Theorem. I only remember it because I had to concentrate very, very hard to do the mathematics (Newtonian mechanics is much easier than probability theory, in my experience), and was rather elated to get the right answer in the end. But I’m now beginning to think that the futility of breast scans was actually known about 10 or more years ago, and is only now being accepted. It hadn’t been dreamt up by a statistics teacher. It was a true story all along. But it needed repeating.

P.S. I’ve just had a reply from Professor Peter Diggle, the current President of the Royal Statistical Society. It begins: “I completely agree with you.”

Hurrah! Hurrah! And again hurrah!!!

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36 Responses to Repeat Something Enough And Everyone Will Believe It

  1. cherie79 says:

    If I had not gone with my instincts 25 or so years ago when I had a positive mammogram I would have had unnecessary surgery and probably chemo and/radiotherapy. I just ‘knew’ they were wrong and paid for a second opinion by a breast cancer specialist who said to forget it, been clear ever since. I wonder just how many more there were who just took the doctors word for it.

    • harleyrider1978 says:

      Look how many insane women had their breasts cut off just because!

      They seem to have done it for the news media as that’s what it became front page insanity cutting off perfectly good breasts just because some breast cancer dharity was running a scare-a-thon for moneys.

      If anything has happened we are relearning what our great grand parents learned back between 1895 and 1930……………history so repeats itself Eugenics again anyone!

  2. Smoking Lamp says:

    It’s time to expose the witch doctors for the charlatans they are!

    • harleyrider1978 says:

      Since October 1 2007 that’s what Ive been doing…………….everywhere everyday hours and hours to make their Nazi lives as miserable as I could and its just the same as so many others have been doing even longer. Today we have to admit ”WHAT SCIENCE”
      There is no science nor anything else left to trust or believe in. Its all going to have to be rebuilt from the ground up as nobody will ever trust the government nor any other medical study again…………….And rightly so!

  3. harleyrider1978 says:

    More red meat hysteria from the oh-so-trustworthy WHO (and idiot journalists) —

    The World Health Organization (WHO) just announced that red meat is “probably carcinogenic to humans.” Yep – Right up there with glyphosate, cigarettes,…

    The World Health Organization (WHO) just announced that red meat is “probably carcinogenic to humans.”

    Yep – Right up there with glyphosate, cigarettes, alcohol and asbestos.

    —— – > insert facepalm <—— –

    This announcement is absurdly misguided and largely based upon the notoriously two least reliable forms of science we have:

    1) Observational studies driven by…

    2) Food questionnaires

    (By the way, what did YOU have for lunch on Thursday of last week/month year?)

    This is all fully based on the idea of "guilt by weak association" and any rational person knows that association is NOT causation.

    UGH – Back to the nutritional Dark Ages we go…

    The WHO seems to be mostly citing evidence from research based on observational studies and food questionnaires published in the Archives of Internal Medicine in 2012, which included an analysis of "two prospective cohort studies."[1] Similar in its failures to the ill-conceived and embarrassingly poor 2011 World Cancer Research Fund "Meta-analysis"[2]—also entirely based upon observational studies and questionnaires— ZERO distinction was made between feedlot meat and 100% grass-fed meat (a potentially huge distinction), and no real effort was made to distinguish the effect of the red meat from whatever else people happened to be eating. What did they include as "red meat?" McDonald's hamburgers, pizza, hot dogs, tacos, bologna, nitrate-laced bacon and feedlot meat (GMO-fed and God knows what else). Although they did graciously concede that red meat is "only slightly less hazardous than preserved meats." And red meat consumption was not separated in any way from whatever else anyone was eating or doing to their health (alcohol intake, sugar consumption, grains, etc. or other lifestyle factors). And since 97% of all meat production is commercial feedlot-based, grass-fed meat likely didn't even factor into these results at all.

    Suspiciously, too, the Archives of Internal Medicine study used what is called relative risk to show their results. "Relative risk" is frequently used to make things look far worse than they are—rather than what is called absolute risk, which really tells it like it is (but might make your results look less dramatic and, well, boring and meaningless).

    It is a significant fact that cancer has been consistently reported to be extremely rare to even non-existent in red meat-eating, hunter-gatherer societies.[3],[4] What in particular has characterized the difference between even Neolithic hunter-gatherer diets and the modern-day Western diet causing us so much trouble now? Data from 229 hunter-gatherer societies included in the Revised Ethnographic Atlas indicate that hunter-gatherer diets differ from typical Western ones in basically two aspects: first, a strong reliance on animal foods (45-65% of energy or E%) and second, the consumption of low-GI [glycemic index] plant foods such as fibrous vegetables, some fruits, nuts and seeds.[5] But we also need to take the quality of the foods they had available to them into account and the very, very different nutrient/fatty acid profile between feedlot meat and 100% naturally grass-fed meat/wild game. Grain fed meats are predominated by potentially inflammatory omega-6 content (while being nearly devoid of healthy omega-3's), versus 100% grass-fed and finished meat (and wild game) which supplies a high percentage of highly anti-inflammatory omega-3 fatty acids (EPA/DHA). Omega-3's have additionally shown some significant anti-cancer benefits.[6] [7] [8]

    Quality counts for a LOT and we all need to start taking that seriously. Deadly seriously.

    In spite of the WHO declaration, other research has shown no meaningful link between diets higher in dietary animal fat and increased cancer risk.[9],[10] With respect to colon cancer, alone, there are many, many more (and better designed) studies finding little to no significant association with red meat and cancer than those that do, some even showing an actual lowered risk! [11] [12] [13] [14] [15] [16] [17] [18] [19] [20] [21][22] [23] [24] [25]

    With respect to Paleo—at least the form of Paleo I personally recommend and the form adopted by The Paleo Way, bases its meat consumption overall on two very distinct recommendations: •Red meat should only come from 100% pasture fed and finished animals. NO feedlot and/or commercial processed meat!
    •I recommend meat/protein in general to be consumed in strict moderation—no more than about 1 gram per kg of ideal body weight (i.e., approximating the weight of a person's lean tissue mass)
    Excessive protein from any source is potentially bad by virtue of 1) its up-regulation of proliferative mTOR pathways 2) its increase of IGF-1, which increases non-specific cellular proliferation and 3) the excess presence of glutamine and 4) protein in excess of what we need in order to meet our basic requirements is readily (up to 40% or so) converted to sugar and used the same way. – And SUGAR (not red meat) is cancer's #1 most essential metabolic fuel.

    With respect to the benefits of exclusively grass-fed meat (over feedlot meat), a particular form of fat that has been more recently lauded for its anti-cancer benefits is one exclusively found in the fat of animals fed on nothing but natural pasture.[26] [27][28] [29] [30] In fact, CLA may be one of the most broadly beneficial and potent cancer-fighting substances in our diet. It is somewhat uniquely able to (in very small amounts) block all three stages of cancer: 1) initiation 2) growth/promotion and 3) metastasis. Most "anticancer nutrients" are typically helpful in only one of these areas. To date, beneficial effects of natural CLA from animal fat have been found in cancers of the breast, prostate, colon and skin. In animal studies, as little as one half of one percent CLA in the diet of experimental animals reduced tumor burden by more than 50 percent.[31] As if this wasn't exciting enough, there is more direct evidence that CLA may reduce cancer risk in humans. In a Finnish study, women who had the highest levels of CLA in their diet had a 60 percent lower risk of breast cancer than those having the lowest levels. Switching from grain-fed to exclusively grass-fed meatliterally places women in this lowest risk category!

    Additionally, French researchers measured CLA levels in the breast tissues of 360 women and found that the women with the most CLA had the lowest risk of cancer.In fact, the women with the most CLA had a staggering 74% lower risk of breast cancer than the women with the least CLA. [32] In yet another study, human breast cancer cells were incubated in milk fat high in CLA or in an isolated form of CLA without any milk fat. The high CLA milk fat decreased cancer growth by 90 percent but the isolated CLA decreased it by only 60 percent. When the cells were incubated in the omega-6 fat, linoleic acid, found most abundantly in grain and grain-fed animals, cancer cell growth increased by 25 percent![33] Other women with the most CLA in their diets were also shown to have a 60% reduction overall in the incidence of breast cancer.[34]

    Other studies have additionally shown breast cancer and even colon cancer preventative benefits.[35] [36] [37] [38] In keeping with this, CLA additionally exerts potent anti-inflammatory effects.[39] The inherent stability of CLA also seems to maintain itself even when meat is cooked.[40],[41] One study pointed out the following, "Of the vast number of naturally occurring substances that have been demonstrated to have anticarcinogenic activity in experimental models, all but a handful of them are of plant origin. Conjugated linoleic acid is unique because it is present in food from animal sources, and its anticancer efficacy is expressed at concentrations close to human consumption levels."[42] CLA is highly abundant, too, in wild game. The implication here is that naturally occurring CLA in animal fat has always played an important role in our diets and may possibly even be a contributing factor to the near-zero incidence of cancer found in hunter-gatherer populations.[43] For all you Aussies out there, one study reported unusually high levels of CLA in (of all things) kangaroo meat![44]

    ONLY CLA from the fat of wild game and fully pastured animals has the real anticancer health benefits you want.[45] Even though synthetic CLA is sold in capsules in health food stores, it lacks the beneficial form found exclusively in grass-fed meats and may even have potentially adverse effects. But I digress…

    According to a research collaboration between Clemson University and the USDA in 2009, in addition to cancer-fighting CLA, fully pastured meat contains the following additional, potentially anti-cancer benefits[46]: •Higher in beta-carotene
    •Higher in vitamin E (alpha-tocopherol)
    •Higher in the B-vitamins thiamin and riboflavin and B12
    •Higher in the minerals calcium, magnesium, and potassium
    •Higher in total omega-3's[47] [48] [49]
    •A healthier ratio of (inflammatory) omega-6 to anti-inflammatory omega-3 fatty acids (1.65 vs. 4.84)
    •Higher in trans-vaccenic acid (TVA – which can be transformed into CLA)
    Also, lamb/sheep fed exclusively on pasture vs. grain contains twice as much lutein (closely related to beta-carotene but more easily absorbed), which has shown possible preventative benefits with respect to both colon and breast cancer (while additionally reducing the risk of macular degeneration).[50]

    So…in a nutshell, this WHO declaration will not change the recommendations I have been making all along. 100% grass-fed and finished meat (not just red meat, by the way) consumed in moderate amounts along with quality, organic fibrous plant-based foods has been and will continue to be among my foundational recommendations for optimal health.

    ~ Nora Gedgaudas, CNS, CNT, BCHN

    "Red meat is NOT bad for you. Now blue-green meat, THAT'S bad for you!"

    —Tommy Smothers

    • harleyrider1978 says:

      Comment: Believing lies from authorities is much worse for you than red meat, or tobacco for that matter. But if you don’t want to take the risk, you can always adopt the Standard American Diet (SAD) of wheat, sugar, plastic vegetable oils and prescription meds, and report back in 10 years if you’re still around.

  4. Joe L. says:

    I’ve just had a reply from Professor Peter Diggle, the current President of the Royal Statistical Society. It begins: “I completely agree with you.”

    Wonderful news, Frank!!! It’s great to know that prominent statisticians are also sick and tired of these self-proclaimed “experts” purposefully misinterpreting statistical data to imply causation in order to advance agendas. I’d love to hear more from Professor Diggle and his opinions on the current state of “science.”

  5. Tony says:

    I’m very glad you received a reply and such a positive one. It shows they are conscious of at least part of the problem. Maybe they can make themselves the fact checking ‘go to’ source for the media.

    The Spiegelhalter video was good in as much as he addressed the important issue of relative risk versus absolute risk. However he unfortunately appeared to fall into the trap of assuming correlation implied causation and then implicitly used the risk factor as an attributable risk. I hope it was just for simplification. Perhaps he made another video that explains further?

    In a multifactorial world (we live in one), such attribution is not only wrong but mathematically untenable. Perhaps I shouldn’t link to my article again but I think it does explain this in clear terms, so here it is:

    P. S. If anyone can see any flaw in my reasoning, I would love to hear of it because I think the issue is important and I’d hate to mislead.

    • harleyrider1978 says:

      The flaw is epidemiology when they went to single issue cause and effect studies. The multi factorial part is whats key if even anything in our environment has any effect on us.

      But my prime concern is the whole thing stinks of complete biased agenda driven political goals.
      The only way they can move these agendas is to pay for idiots/epidemiologists to prostitute their profession and get the results their masters want. Then when the game is finally up as in such insane claims nobody believes any of them anymore after decades of the junk science and fear mongering,they lose everything from political trust to no trust at all in government science or medicine.

      Junk science and epidemiology are one in the same today.

      You can invent a theory and then go about proving the theory epidemiology alone will never prove cause and effect especially with single issue studies,they purposely ignore all other multi factorial effects. When they need to call in the toxicologist to try and prove the theory,they never do simply because they know their study is BS,so why call in the real scientists to prove what you claimed is real or not…..The simple fact is toxicologists would likely laugh right in their faces and expose the fraudsters if they had any balls.

    • Roobeedoo2 says:

      I don’t understand statistics and stuff but the thing I want to know is: was bacon sandwich eating taken into consideration when arriving at the absolute risk percentage thingy of 5%? Because that extra person (relative risk) might already be one of the 5 (absolute risk). How would any know if bacon sandwich eating isn’t factored in at the beginning?

      And the other thing: bacon sandwiches have other ingredients, it’s in the name – bread (which variety?), butter (or marg or not), choice of sauce (red, brown, mayo), I could on.

      My point is, the absolute risk figure might be hokum to start with.

  6. waltc says:

    Frank, can you publish the whole of your and his letters?

  7. harleyrider1978 says:

    This part I didn’t write I stole it from Leggy
    Indeed: taking ash’s figure of £2,158, the average smoker spends about £400 on tobacco and £1,750 on taxes, assuming a tax take around 80%

    This I wrote
    Its the governments High taxes pushed by ASH that’s making people poor not the other way around as ASH is trying to do. This leaves the poor going to the enormous Blackmarket all over the UK to buy tobacco from and keep enuf money to get the kids food and maybe some xmas in the same year. Could be said ASH stolethe food and XMAS from all the poor kids via their push for ever higher tobacco taxes and made criminals rich off the taxmans back!

    • harleyrider1978 says:

      Thousands in poverty because of 80% taxation on smoking

      • beobrigitte says:

        You do have a point. However, the Ashites screech that you would have “all-the-money” if you gave up smoking…
        Which is nonsense.
        There is a black market (If I ever run out of tobacco) I will make use of the numerous offers although the tobacco offered is more expensive than the one I buy when being abroad/visitors from abroad bring. WHY would I want to pay extra to support my persecution?

        That does remind me – even in the States there is a black market where I didn’t suspect it…

        • harleyrider1978 says:

          big time,kentucky truck stops are notorious for selling bootleg out of the back of tucks. Been like that since I can ever remember. Most of its older tobacco that was removed from store shelves that didn’t sell or over shipments and they end up in the hands of black marketeers who likely bought it legally for pennies on the dollar.

  8. kin_free says:

    A word of caution regarding this bacon sandwich /WHO debacle!
    Many WHO propagandists may be nutters and fanatics but they are NOT stupid, do not underestimate them! The way I see it is that this is very clever propaganda designed to reinforce the ‘smoking and alcohol Kills’ slogans! (The WHO’S stated main ‘health objectives’).

    They claim that red meat is “probably carcinogenic to humans” and should be classified in the same bracket as cigarettes, alcohol and throw in asbestos for emphasis ( the only real killer). They KNOW what the response will be. They can then watch as their opponents rip it to bits BY comparing the ‘insignificant risks’ of eating meat with the ‘massive risks’ of cigarettes and alcohol. – “Are the WHO stupid ? ” or words to that effect.

    I have yet to see anyone report this without using that comparison.

    We will all go on eating bacon sandwiches, we may even see the WHO apologise for ‘possibly’ being a ‘little overzealous’ re. red meat – BUT – the earlier learned propaganda of the ‘serious risks’ of smoking, alcohol etc. is reinforced and remembered by the public and politicians.

    The original ACTIVE ‘smoking kills’ claim is coming under increased scrutiny as people come to realise that the anti-smoker campaign has resulted in NO improvement in public health, in fact the opposite, with so-called ‘smoker related disease’ continuing to increase etc.- the timing is always very appropriate for anti-smoker propaganda.

    The good news is that this ‘red meat kills’ rubbish is just a repeat from 2007 which suggests they are running out of ideas to ‘maintain the initiative’.

    • harleyrider1978 says:

      It totally destroys their credibility in the public perception.

    • beobrigitte says:

      A word of caution regarding this bacon sandwich /WHO debacle!
      Many WHO propagandists may be nutters and fanatics but they are NOT stupid, do not underestimate them!

      I doubt that anyone underestimates the group (e.g. WHO propagandists)!! We all are aware we are dealing with a financially well oiled and organised in great part initially created by a well meaning population who wanted to see infectious diseases (e.g. small pocks) eradicated.
      We do have the problem that long term thinking appears impaired. The WHO announced in the 70s the eradication of small pocks. I was one of the kids vaccinated. However….

      The war against micro-organisms is set that we lose. Taking the replication rate of individual micro-organisms (something we cannot compete with) is telling us that we cannot win on the long run. The BBC has gone awfully quiet about the progress (?) of the nurse who relapsed with Ebola 9 month after being “cured”. This is not the “Sudan” strain. This is a strain that now can survive ‘latently’ in it’s human host (as it does in e.g. bats).

      Perhaps I am a little too suspicious; but, isn’t diversion from the problem often the best tactics?

      • harleyrider1978 says:

        Beo you know the WHO doesn’t have time to actually do their real job in the middle of helping the UN take over the world.

  9. Pingback: Scary Shit Settled Science | MalagaBay

  10. beobrigitte says:

    I think the healthists’ method is simply to keep repeating their message – in this case, the bacon-causes-cancer doctrine – until it ceases to meet any resistance.
    It has worked well when it comes to tobacco….. If anyone googles “safe level of alcohol” you will find that this “no safe level” Phrase is being used over and over again….. Sugar is also “unsafe”….

    And it seems that this bacon-causes-cancer business is a recycled idea, given that Spiegelhalter wrote the following in 2007
    The red meat scare, indeed, has been in the news years ago. As with everything; they publish some nonsense, no-one takes notice other than having a laugh and these publications disappear for a while to be recycled in virtually the same words.
    “There is no safe level of …….” [input the object of ‘disgusting substance’].

    The BBC is highly amusing; it’s (?never-thinkers) of presenters announced that the generation born in the 1960s will live to a ripe old age.
    But….. But….. What happened to this generation in the 60s and 70s and (to a large extend in the) 80s? – There were ASHTRAYS in peoples’ homes…… And, [my experience in Germany] every household had one or two crates of beer in the cellar. Worse even, MacDonald places shot up everywhere. On top of that, sugary drinks and sweets (in the weirdest colours) were the thing to have for these (then) kids……
    The BBC has some explaining to do for it’s “experts” dug up from somewhere.

    Eating bacon IS as safe as smoking – unless most of the generation born in the 60 (and prior to that) are already dead. So, WHY is the government raising the pension age? It may well have something to do with financial mismanagement followed by a real blooper. But, if this generation wouldn’t be so happily alive as it is, this mismanagement would not be a problem (?).
    Also, what is with the direct war/post war generation? A LOT of people born in the 1920s are still alive…..

    I wish people would start thinking for themselves – and begin to ask questions. A lot of them! To constantly quote, albeit relevant yet scarce, independent research will get no-one anywhere. To start with questions, which in turn raise further questions + highlighting common sense aspects – for all an answer is required!!!! – seems the best way to go. (?)

    These days if I get told yet another health scare my reply is: “I tell you what. When I seize to be an adult you’ll be the first person to know. Until then I make my own decisions”.

  11. harleyrider1978 says:
  12. harleyrider1978 says:


    New Ventilator Attachment Safely Allows Smoking While Receiving Oxygen | GomerBlog

    New smoking attachment to ventilators keeps smoking habits intact during hospitalization|By Josie Rose RN

  13. harleyrider1978 says:

    The killing game

    Posted on October 27, 2015

    After yesterday’s announcement by the World Health Organisation that processed meat is a definite cause of cancer in humans and that red meat is a ‘probable’ cause, there has been something of a backlash from scientists trying to put the whole thing into perspective.

    For example, Suzi Gage in the Guardian blamed ‘simplistic reporting’ for equating the risk of processed and meat with smoking. ‘The WHO have deemed the strength of evidence that processed meats cause cancer to be equivalent to that showing that smoking causes cancer. This means that if you eat a lot of red or processed meats you are increasing your risk of cancer. But to compare it to something as lethal as smoking is confusing and dangerous.’

    Over on the Cancer Research UK science blog Casey Dunlop emphasises the difference between relative risk and absolute risk. ‘The results showed that those who ate the most processed meat had around a 17 per cent higher risk of developing bowel cancer, compared to those who ate the least.’ She notes that for people who eat the least processed meat the absolute risk is 5.6 per cent, but for the people who ate the most it’s about 6.6 per cent. Foregoing bacon, sausages and the rest to avoid an increased risk of one percentage point might seem, so the implication goes, unnecessarily drastic.

    Comparing the risks of processed meat with active smoking seems alarmist, then. But the figures being bandied about for the risks from processed meat are much the same as those being quoted for passive smoking in the run-up to the introduction of smoking bans. Take this from a report by the US surgeon general in 2004: ‘The pooled evidence indicates a 20 to 30 percent increase in the risk of lung cancer from secondhand smoke exposure associated with living with a smoker.’

    And just as with the evidence for meat, there were plenty of confounding factors to call into question such a small effect. As the BMJ noted, also in 2004, ‘The considerable problems with measurement imprecision, confounding, and the small predicted excess risks limit the degree to which conventional observational epidemiology can address the effects of exposure to environmental tobacco smoke.’

    But, by and large, the kind of scientists who are now berating the media for ‘simplistic reporting’ were silent about the weakness of the evidence on passive smoking. Organisations like Cancer Research continue to trumpet the risks of ‘secondhand’ smoke despite the feeble conclusions of research on the matter. The consequence was a draconian and comprehensive ban on smoking in workplaces and enclosed spaces, regardless of the wishes of business owners or their customers.

    It seems that politics, not statistics, is the decisive factor in such ‘myth-busting’ commentary. And it’s also understandable why consumers should react badly to their food being labelled ‘carcinogenic’ – because they know that bans, regulations and taxes may soon follow.

    • harleyrider1978 says:

      Like I was saying our army is building against our enemy and the idiots dont even realise it.

    • Some French Bloke says:

      The writer(s) of the above piece would only qualify as a part of “our army” if they didn’t fully endorse the direct smoking scare, with its purported 15 to 25-fold increase in LC risk over an elusive (and constantly moving) base-line for non-smokers. They obviously assume that if a relative risk is huge statistically then it can’t be otherwise weak, and qualifies as a full-fledged biological finding, even though this assumption can only be made after inconvenient statistical findings have been weeded out.
      As other commenters pointed out (e.g. kin_free: the earlier learned propaganda of the ‘serious risks’ of smoking, alcohol etc. is reinforced and remembered by the public and politicians.), the red and processed meat scare can be viewed as another clever ploy to reinforce the false perception that tobacco and alcohol consumption have been wreaking havoc with (older) people’s health in recent years, in spite of the fact that both consumptions have been declining for half a century or more.

  14. Frank Davis says:

    From Netzwerk Rauchen:

  15. caprizchka says:

    Reblogged this on caprizchka and commented:
    File this along with the ‘men are bad, women are good’ dogma. Suddenly feeling a craving for a bacon sandwich. Makes the case that hysterics ought to be barred from watching television as it increases one’s chances of developing further hysteria by 20%. LOL

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